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Varlamov back in net for Avalanche

by Rick Sadowski
DENVER – Semyon Varlamov will be back in goal for the Colorado Avalanche and Cory Schneider will remain in goal for the Vancouver Canucks tonight when the teams meet at Pepsi Center.

Varlamov, who is in a 0-5-1 slump, will make his first start since Nov. 15 when he faced 33 shots in the Avalanche’s 6-3 loss in Pittsburgh. He hasn’t won since Oct. 30, a 3-2 home win against Los Angeles, and served as the backup to Jean-Sebastien Giguere for the past three games.

Schneider will make his third start in a row as Roberto Luongo recovers from the upper-body injury he suffered Nov. 13 in the Canucks’ 4-1 win against the New York Islanders. Luongo took part in the optional pregame skate this morning and is expected to start Friday against Phoenix in the second game of the Canucks’ three-game road trip.

Schneider is coming off a 28-save performance Sunday in the Canucks’ 2-1 overtime victory over the Ottawa Senators. He’s posted a 3-4-0 record with a 2.52 goals-against average and .912 save percentage.

Defenseman Keith Ballard (back spasms) and left wing Mason Raymond (vertebrae compression fracture) are close to returning, but they won’t play against Colorado.

After getting off to a hot start, Varlamov has allowed 20 goals during his six-game winless streak. He permitted seven goals in one game, six in another and was replaced by Giguere early in the second period of a 5-2 loss in Detroit on Nov. 8 after giving up three goals on 16 shots.

The Canucks have dominated the Avalanche in recent games, posting a 5-0-1 record against them last season and a 6-1-2 mark in the past nine games in Denver.

“They have a lot of high-end skill and they’re tough on the back end and they have good goaltending,” Avalanche center Paul Stastny said this morning. “They have depth everywhere and they’re a good special-teams team.”

The Canucks are especially potent on the power play. They lead the NHL with a 26.7 percent success rate and have connected for 10 goals on 24 man advantages (41.7 percent) in the past seven games.

The Avalanche has the second-best power play (25.7 percent) but probably will be without defenseman Erik Johnson, who is nursing a groin ailment, to play the point.

Colorado has lost four of the past five games overall and seven of 10 home games this season.

“I don’t think we’re playing as bad as our record indicates,” defenseman Shane O’Brien said. “At the same time, our record is what our record is. We still have six games left on this homestand, which is huge for us. We have a lot of hard work ahead of us. You don’t want to make excuses, but the hockey gods maybe haven’t been on our side; we’ve had some bad bounces. But at the same time, you create your own bounces with hard work.”
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